MDOT vote to proceed regardless of court date

No final court decision expected April 13
Posted:  Monday, April 9, 2018 - 3:30pm
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Wiscasset Town Manager Marian Anderson said regardless of any action by the court at an April 13 hearing, the April 17 referendum on continuing the lawsuit against Maine Department of Transportation will go forward. “The vote is to give the Board of Selectmen direction,” Anderson said. “At the various hearings, we’ve heard from a small number of people on either side of the MDOT downtown project issue. This vote will give us a better idea of where the town as a whole stands.”

The vote takes place at Wiscasset Community Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. A yes vote would tell selectmen the town wishes to go forward with the lawsuit; a no vote would tell the town to stop the lawsuit. 

Regardless of the outcome, the town will be responsible for legal fees already incurred.

Anderson said additional funds were added into the 2018-19 budget for legal expenses, there are probably not enough in it to cover this lawsuit. “We didn’t budget hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said, adding she does not know what the final costs would be. “My crystal ball is broken,” she said.

Wiscasset had been offered $75,000 by the Ralph Doering family to pay for legal expenses related to the downtown project. Doering owns several commercial and residential rental properties in the downtown area. Doering, under the name of his businesses, Wawenock Block LLC et al,  has an appeal pending against MDOT in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The town had not agreed to accept the funds, which the town was assured would be structured in an escrow account the family would have no control over. Some selectmen have said accepting the funds would be legal, poses an ethical question, and all the selectmen said they would want the town to vote on that issue separately.

However, in a letter dated April 9, Wiscasset attorney David Soule of Soule, Soule, and Logan, stated that the escrow account with $75,000 from Doering had been established and was waiting for the town to request payments. The escrow agreement, dated April 5,  gives Soule complete discretion as to what is an appropriate disbursement.
 
According to information Anderson and Soule provided, the funds would not be under the town's direct control, and the town is not a party to the escrow.  There is no place on the escrow document for a representative of the town to sign the agreement, for instance.
 
The escrow agreement also references a "town motion" that suggested the town was willing to accept the funds. No such motion has been executed by the selectmen, and selectmen have consistently stated that any escrow agreement would require the approval of the town.

Anderson said it is unlikely,but possible the court would decide the town's case April 13. Stranger things have happened, she said.

“Both sides will present arguments, and the judge will probably write a decision a bit later,” she said.